NEW YORK -- The Yankees see Dante Bichette Jr. as a big bat in their lineup somewhere down the line. But to Joe Girardi, he's still the kid nuzzled in the car seat, the engine lulling him to sleep.
Girardi was all smiles when he learned that the Yankees selected Bichette on Monday with the 51st overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
"Our club felt he was the best available player at that spot, and I'm thrilled to death, because I've known this little guy for a long time," Girardi said.
Bichette said that he still calls Girardi his "Uncle Joe." Girardi and Dante Bichette Sr. grew close as teammates on the inaugural Colorado Rockies roster in 1993, despite their obvious differences.
"We became really close friends and we were about as opposite as you can get," Girardi said. "He was more of a free spirit, and everyone knows how I am. For whatever reason, I found it really enjoyable to be around him.
"We would work out together, and little Dante was born that first season. He was a wonderful little kid."
Girardi recalled the Bichettes staying with his family during road trips to Chicago, and getting the future Yankee draftee to bed could sometimes prove to be a handful.
"Little Dante would sometimes have a hard time getting to sleep at night," Girardi said. "We'd get in the car and drive him around. You think that this is the kid we drafted -- the kid that was trying to get to sleep in the car seat. It's a special family."
Girardi said that he knows first hand of Bichette's work ethic. The family makes consistent use of a batting cage at their Florida home.
"I've seen Junior basically working at this his whole life," Girardi said. "Dante is really committed to it."